Date: Monday, November 22, 2010
With all due respect to the English majors out there, these comments don't have anything to do with grammar, punctuation, or spelling. Although important to the professional image of your agency, this isn't about a check for commas, but rather the importance of writing out your social networking strategy; actually putting your plans and goals on paper before you send stuff out on the Web.
Questions you should ask - and answer - before posting include, what are our agency's goals on social networks (from here on, called SN)? Who will author and oversee the site? What's appropriate and inappropriate content? How will you convey compliments or complaints that come in via SN? How frequently will you update the page? What kind of public interaction are you comfortable with? What SN sites should you use and how can you have them work together to bring more attention to the information you're trying to release?
At Boise PD, we've written up something titled "Official Department Use of Social Networking; Strategies and Philosophies." As the Communications Director and Public Information Officer for the department, I oversee our official department SN sites and author much of the content you see there. But, SN is bigger than one person per agency.
These "Strategies and Philosophies" are meant as guiding operational principals. The social networking world is ever changing, and so is our department experience in the twitterverse. So our "SAPs" begin by stating that there are no formulas, and our department objectives and resulting practices will differ and evolve with the unique circumstances of any given situation.
The Boise PD social networking strategies and philosophies state at the beginning, we want to be "useful, relational and reliable," a quote from Darren Rowse, author of ProBlogger and ProBlogger.net. Our stated objectives tie our SN outreach directly to the mission statement of our department; that we believe increased opportunities for sharing information with citizens furthers our mission to Protect, Serve, and Lead our Community to a Safer Tomorrow.
We wrote down who is designated to communicate on SN sites officially on behalf of the department, and reminded those authors of the responsibility they have to maintaining the professional image and conduct expected of this agency by our community.
We wrote down details like what equipment should be used, how quickly we might jump on a new SN site (answer: not too quickly!), and we put thought into how often we should update our sites with fresh posts and information, avoiding "twitter fatigue" as Chief Masterson refers to it, but keeping our sites useful and relevant.
Perhaps most importantly, we thought about and committed to paper, what content is appropriate from a police agency, including some of the obvious like public safety info, department employees involvement community events, and news releases generated by the department. We expanded possible content to include info generated from outside sources as it relates to the department's public safety mission. And, finally, we allow ourselves to be social. We post content that may show nothing other than we're proud and happy to live in our community.